Valley Queen didn’t exist until frontwoman Natalie Carol moved to Los Angeles and met guitarist David Donaldson, but the grassroots rock that Carol was raised on in Arkansas is embedded in the band’s sound. Her relocation to the City of Angels acted as the catalyst for discovering her musical identity as she hadn’t even planned on pursuing a singing career until meeting like-minded people in the Echo Park/Silverlake scene.
Valley Queen’s sound is influenced by artists such as Duane Allman and Joni Mitchell, and it will undoubtedly inspire you to dust off your record collection and revisit old favorites. They’re the type of band that will restore appreciation for classic roots rock, while reassuring listeners that plenty of contemporary bands are still reinventing the genre. The way songs such as “Carnival” crescendo from Carol’s timid, controlled vocals into instrumentally charged, belting melodies gives the Americana-driven music a rock-fueled modern edge.
Jam in the Van has just released two new Valley Queen videos highlighting Carol’s lush, soulful vocals, which are like a pillow for your ears. Take a listen, and you’ll see how difficult it is to resist the fervent, angelic harmonies and raw, bluesy instrumentals of this local act.
Read on to gain more insight into what inspired Valley Queens’ sound, what it’s been like establishing a presence in LA, and where the band is going next (including a show tonight at CMJ in NYC)!
What prompted your decision to move to LA to pursue music? Did you have any connections here or was it essentially like starting from scratch?
Well, when I first moved to LA, I didn’t know I would pursue singing as a career. I went out there on a whim and music found me. I was not even singing in front of anyone when I first [moved here]. It was very disorienting. I was very insulated. I met my first bandmate, David, who was encouraging and comfortable and brought my songs of out me. It wasn’t a conscience decision. LA just happened and the music was a gift that was waiting there.
Did you always know what your musical style would be or did it come together after you guys met and started collaborating?
The sound has evolved as we have continued to play. Coming from Arkansas, the first formation of the band was traditional and relied mostly on what I’d heard from blues records and trips I’d taken to Memphis when I was very young, watching old blues musicians play. Environment influences sound so much. Los Angeles, over time, has changed my mind, which in turn has change the sound. Living by the ocean and amongst all the people it attracts has definitely contributed a lot to my evolution as an artist.
Is there ever any friction between the group members or are you pretty agreeable on your sound, approach, etc.?
It’s a pretty easygoing group. Shawn Morones is our new guitarist. He’s definitely challenged the sound and my work as an artist. I don’t think of myself as much of a guitar player. Lyrics, melody, and vocal tone come first to me. Shawn recognized my self-consciousness in that area right away and has challenged me to improve through lessons and listening to music together. Any tension that arises is an attempt to go for something more, something bigger than we already are.
Tell me about your songwriting process. Where does the music derive from?
My songs are ultimately driven by lyrics and feeling. I like reading poems and books. I’m a writer first, and the music follows. I use songwriting as a way of dealing with pain and confusion. It’s transformative to write when you feel shitty and allow an audience to absorb it and enjoy it and tell you, inadvertently, that’s it’s okay and it’s not wrong to feel utterly weird and messed up.
What has your experience making music in LA been like thus far?
LA is a crazy place. You’ve got to have a community around you or you can get really down. It’s just so big, it can swallow you up, spit you out, and make ya pay $75 for street cleaning. But we’re lucky that we’re now deeply immersed in a musical community in the Echo Park/Silverlake area that’s filled with talent and sweet people. It makes the town [feel] smaller.
Where are you guys at now as far as gaining a following/fanbase? Has your effort been pretty DIY up to this point or have you had help?
Right now we are in New York playing a week of showcases at CMJ. We’ll be touring up and down the West Coast in November. Our full-length album is due out in the spring of next year. We just continue to play, play, play and let the music propel us where it wants us to go.
We feel things picking up, and a lot of that has come from working with our new managers, Jake and Dave of Jam in the Van. They’re two dudes we’ve met through this LA musical community that saw something special in us and have really given us a helpful push.
We’ve also been working with our friend and producer, Lewis Pesacov (Nikki Lane, FIDLAR, Best Coast, Fool’s Gold) for the past few years making this album in bits. He’s like another member and has shaped our sound into something cohesive. You’ll hear what he has done in the spring when the record comes out.
The live songs seem pretty bare-bones. Do you plan to maintain that raw, live sound on your albums?
Playing live is our favorite thing. We don’t want to add a lot of things that fatten up the sound on a recording that we wouldn’t be able to deliver live. It comes down to live performance, always. And that’s what you’ll hear on the record.
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